ADHD and rudeness

There is a strong link between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and a dysfunction or delay in executive functions (Roth, 2004). Executive functions are a set of mental skills. These mental skills include working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control (Rosen, 2020). Dysfunctions in executive functioning can lead to misconceived rudeness as behaviours that come naturally to others are not abided to. Thus, people with ADHD are commonly misconceived as being rude.

Working memory allows an individual to retain new information briefly so that they are able to keep track of what they are doing (Rosen, 2020). Individuals with ADHD struggle to regulate the amount of information they are receiving (Mirsky et al, 1999; Zillmer et al, 2008). Furthermore, they struggle with orientating themselves and focusing on what is relevant. This results in an individual, with ADHD, being unable to focus on the task at hand for any length of time as well as being unable to follow through with tasks and conversations (Rosen, 2020).
By social standards, when a person loses concentration during a conversation they are showing disinterest which can be seen as a form of rudeness. However, an individual with ADHD cannot maintain this focus and thus, are not intentionally being rude. Working memory also assists with following through on a task (Rosen, 2020). Thus, someone who has ADHD and, therefore, a dysfunction in working memory may struggle to follow instructions. A lack of obedience can come across as disrespectful which can be regarded as another form of rudeness.

Cognitive flexibility allows us to approach new situations and problems with innovative and creative solutions (Rosen, 2020). If there is a dysfunction in this area, rigid thinking is prominent. Rigidity can come across as rude in many different social situations. An individual with ADHD may struggle to switch between tasks and activities as it requires disengaging from the current task and sorting through all the new information (Rosen, 2020). Children with ADHD may throw tantrums when they are required to change activities. Thus, instead of viewing the tantrum as a sign that the individual is feeling overwhelmed, the tantrums may be considered socially inappropriate after a certain age. Consequently, tantrums may be viewed as a form of rudeness. It also may be regarded as rude when children are unable to change the way they do things even when they are shown the correct way to do something. Furthermore, it can appear as if the child is deliberately ignoring the person’s advice and is being insolent. Someone with ADHD may also struggle to see another’s viewpoint and may insist that their own point of view is the only correct way of viewing a situation. This rigidity in thinking and lack of interest in another’s opinion can appear impolite or rude.

Inhibitory control is the ability to control one’s impulses (Logan, 1997). Controlling impulses is incredibly important for social interaction. Behaviours such as shouting out, saying the first thing that comes to mind and being tactless are all considered to be ill-mannered in social interactions. Dysfunctions in inhibitory control lead to misconceptions of rudeness. People with functioning inhibitory control are unable to understand what it is like to be powerless to control one’s impulses.

Hyperactivity includes being restless, extremely active and often entails an inability to concentrate (Goodwin, 2019). Social expectations require that in an important or formal situation, an individual must sit still and concentrate. Consequently, hyperactivity is often mistaken for rudeness as individuals who are hyperactive defy these social expectations as they are unable to sit still, unable to concentrate and are active during in appropriate times (Rosen, 2020).

Individuals who have ADHD often exhibit behaviour that is considered rude. However, when further examining the effects of ADHD, we can see that dysfunctions in the executive functioning domain gives rise to certain behaviours that are otherwise considered rude and socially unacceptable.

Shannon Mayo


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